Undocumented Irish a step closer to US citizenship
THOUSANDS of undocumented Irish living in America are a step closer to gaining citizenship, after the US Senate voted last night to advance a landmark immigration bill.
It cleared away the first procedural hurdle in front of legislation opening the door to U.S. citizenship for millions, including up to 50,000 Irish who are living in the US without residency rights.
The 82-15 vote was the first cast by the full Senate on the far-reaching bill that's a top priority for President Barack Obama, whose objective is to notch a major legislative accomplishment in the first year of his second term. Hours earlier Mr Obama appeared at the White House to prod Congress to send him a bill by autumn.
"Congress needs to act, and that moment is now," Mr Obama said, surrounded by immigration advocates, business and religious leaders, law enforcement officials and others in the East Room of the White House.
"There's no reason Congress can't get this done by the end of the summer," the president said. "There's no good reason to play procedural games or engage in obstruction just to block the best chance we've had in years to address this problem in a way that's fair to middle-class families, business owners and legal immigrants."
Many Republicans made clear that they would require significant changes to the bill written by a so-called Gang of Eight – four Republican and four Democratic senators – to be able to support it on final passage.
"The Gang of Eight has done its work. Now it's time for the Gang of 100 to do its work – for the entire Senate to have its say on this issue, and see if we can do something to improve the status quo," said Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "At the risk of stating the obvious, this bill has serious flaws."
The measure would boost security along the border with Mexico and workplace enforcement, allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country, and create a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.
Ahead of the votes, senators were readying amendments on contentious issues including border security, back taxes and healthcare coverage.
Some Republicans said they were seeking to strengthen enforcement provisions so that they could be comfortable voting for the bill.